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During the last week in February, the UW-Madison Libraries are celebrating Fair Use Week, happening February 25th through March 1st. Fair use is an essential limitation and exception to copyright, allowing the use of copyrighted materials without permission from the copyright holder under certain circumstances. Fair use allows copyright to adapt to new technologies.

This doctrine facilitates balance in copyright law, promoting further progress and accommodating freedom of speech and expression. Fair Use Week is an annual celebration of the important doctrines of fair use. While fair use is employed on a daily basis by students, faculty, librarians, journalists, and all users of copyrighted material, Fair Use Week is a time to promote and discuss the opportunities presented, celebrate success stories and explain the doctrine.

The UW-Madison Libraries are committed to helping individuals learn about the right ways to use others’ materials effectively. On our website, we have a page dedicated to copyright and fair use practice tips. Here you can find copyright basics, a page on how to use others’ materials, how to perform library copying or other reproduction tips, and more.

The UW-Madison Libraries are committed to helping individuals learn about the right ways to use others’ materials effectively.  To learn more or ask a question, visit our site or email us!

Examples of Fair Use Making an Impact:

  1. Fair use for visual artists, designers, and art historians
  • The right to make fair use of copyrighted materials is a key tool for the visual arts community.
  • Teachers rely on it—along with other copyright exceptions—to show images of works being discussed during class sessions, and … to provide relevant images for student use outside of class.
  • Artists may employ fair use to build on preexisting works, engage with contemporary culture, or provide artistic, political, or social commentary.

(From the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use in the Visual Arts)

2. Fair Use in journalism and reporting

  • Journalists have long depended upon the right of fair use to incorporate copyrighted material into their work, and to this day, they do so constantly.
    • [For example,] journalists report on a modern reality permeated with copyrighted content. They constantly capture such material incidentally in the course of reporting on specific events and activities. This is not material they have chosen to include for its own sake; rather, it is an inseparable part of the reality they seek to portray. Excluding (or drastically curtailing) the amount of such material contained in reporting would compromise the truth-telling mission of journalism.

(From the Set of Principles in Fair Use for Journalism)

3. Fair Use in documentary filmmaking 

  • Documentary filmmakers must choose whether or not to rely on fair use when their projects involve the use of copyrighted material.
    • [For example,] in many cases the best (or even the only) effective way to tell a particular historical story or make a historical point is to make selective use of words that were spoken during the events in question, music that was associated with the events, or photographs and films that were taken at that time.
  • Given the social and educational importance of the documentary medium, fair use should apply in some instances of this kind. To conclude otherwise would be to deny the potential of filmmaking to represent history to new generations of citizens.

(From the Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use)

4. Fair use of images in dissertations

  • Images are essential pedagogical and scholarly materials. They are unique objects whose meaning cannot be adequately conveyed through words or other media.
  • Images incorporated into dissertations or theses for the purpose of advance or documenting a scholarly argument or point should be consistent with fair use, even with those these or dissertations are then distributed through online repositories and databases. Just as printed material can be freely quoted with attributions, the inclusion of reference images in academic dissertations or theses is critical to advancing our collective knowledge in the arts and sciences and should be consistent with fair use.

(From the Statement on the Fair Use of Images for Teaching, Research, and Study)

See Fair Use Infographic pdf here.